Why Are Young People So Drawn to Calvinism?

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Calvinism is all over the place. Many of the best known young preachers are Calvinists. Many of the most well read blogs are from a Calvinist perspective. All of a sudden there has been a huge influx of Calvinists. According to Lifeway “nearly 30% of SBC seminary graduates between 1998 and 2004, now serving as pastors, describe themselves as Calvinists” (p.74 of Young, Restless and Reformed). What is the story? I asked a young neo-Calvinist what book they would recommend to help me wrap my mind around what is going on. They said I should read Young, Restless, and Reformed by Collin Hansen. Collin is a journalist, Reformed and at one time the youngest editor at Christianity Today. He is currently the Editorial Director of the Gospel Coalition.

This book gives us two insights into why young adults are drawn to Calvinism. The first insight is Hansen’s own perspective. The second insight comes from all the interviews he did in order to write this book. This book is a record of Hansen’s travels to various well known Calvinist and Reformed congregations and conferences. He shares the stories of many young people who didn’t start out believing in TULIP but share their own process of accepting it as central to the Christian faith.

Two things need to be mentioned at the start. First, I am not a Calvinist…so this critique will reflect that in some places. Second,  there is a difference between Calvinism and the Reformed movement itself. The Reformed movement includes Calvinism but not all Calvinists are Reformed. Hansen says that the Reformed movement emphasizes TULIP along with “the five Reformation solas (by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone, by Scripture alone, for God’s glory alone). (p.111)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with TULIP, it is the five points of Calvinism:
T – Total Depravity – by nature mankind is unrighteous, selfish, and unable to love and seek God on our own
U – Unconditional Election – Salvation comes by God’s choosing/election that he established in eternity past
L – Limited Atonement – Jesus died solely for the sins of God’s elect/chosen people.
I – Irresistible Grace – If God has elected you he will draw you to himself apart from anything to do with your own goodness (due to total depravity)
P –  Perseverance of the Saints – God is so sovereign that once you are elect you will be saved. Nothing can keep that from happening

There are several reasons Calvinism is increasing in popularity. It is not because it is hip or attractive from a worldly point of view:

  1. Calvinism offers a God-centred approach to everything. It is not seeker sensitive. It is not pop-psychology. It is all about God, his power and authority.
  2. Calvinism lowers the position of man – It seems like some Christians want to focus solely on our value and esteem. Calvinism is focusing on our own lowliness. They say we are nothing. We can’t even pick God or want to pick God unless God elects us by his own sovereign will. Much of the way we (Arminians) motivate people is through talking about what is in it for them. If you come to Sunday night church you can grow closer to God, be blessed, etc…not so much with Calvinism. It is all about God.
  3. Calvinism offers certainty – Because God is so sovereign there is a solid foundation to live on. There is no wishy-washyness here. Hansen says, when John Piper speaks, he speaks with certainty (37)
  4. Emphasis on scripture – these guys love scripture, love study, and aren’t afraid to dive in deep.
  5. Passion – There is a sense of passion here because we often tend to get passionate about ourselves and that is all pretty shallow. When you passionate about the greatness of God and his overarching sovereignty…that is a passion that goes beneath the surface.
  6. Calvinism recognizes the control is in God’s hands, not ours. That is a liberating thought.
  7. It is a non-institutional institution. What I mean by that is they are less about church and more about God. That doesn’t mean church is emphasized less but in emphasizing our depravity and God’s election, grace and sovereignty they are putting God over church. They are moving outside the building
  8. Worship that is more all about God and not about us – Emphasizing God’s sovereignty and our depravity comes out in their worship. It is God-centered.
  9. This influence has made its way mainstream into a number of conferences and campus ministries that are affecting young adults all over the nation.

So what do we take away from this? There were a few things that I really appreciated about the Calvinist perspective. I really think they got emphasizing God and his glory right. I think too often we make self the driving force. We try to motivate people to attend or do things for what is in it for them rather than emphasize our participation in giving God the glory He deserves. That is solid. I appreciate their passion that comes directly out of a sole focus on God. We need more of that.

A couple of things were pretty unsettling to me about this book. I don’t know if this is about Hansen’s perspective or if this is common in Calvinism at large:

  1. It seems they really venerate men like Edwards, Calvin, Piper and others. I bet their names appeared over 100 times in this book. Names like Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc paled in comparison.
  2. Language of conversion – he talks about people converting to Calvinism. What does that mean? If they were elect to begin with how is there a conversion? A conversion of thoughts and views?
  3. Sovereignty meets Mercy – Calvinists will go on and on about the mercy of God that they are the elect. They are elect only because God picked them against their own will and desires. The flip side is God rejected giving his mercy to others. They had the exact same sinful desires and depravity but God just chose not to be merciful to them. Can God still be full merciful if atonement is limited and his mercy is forced?
  4. This book is a lot about personalities. He even says that if Piper weren’t so zealous in his presentation that young people wouldn’t listen to him (34).
  5. It takes this book 90 pages before Hansen says all of this is really about the Gospel itself and not about Calvinism but you just don’t get that feeling reading this book. If Calvinism is accurate to God’s intention for creation then this is the Gospel we are talking about here. We go on and on about how people converted to Calvinism? Why not just call TULIP the Gospel?

What is your experience with Calvinism? For those of you who hold this view, is this critique fair?

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